They often say that “It’s not what you’ve got; it’s how you use it”, and sometimes there are further implications about positioning being just as important as well. Regardless of what it is, and where you intend to put it, one thing holds true: having the right tool for the job, but not having it in the right place at the right time, is useless. There’s no point in wearing a life jacket to shovel your driveway, and an airbrush makes a really crappy torque wrench. If you’re not going to find the right place and the right time to skill fully employ the assets you have, failure is almost a guaranteed outcome.
That’s bad enough when you’re considering the quotidian requirements that most of us face. However, it gets awfully sticky when you consider warfighting. There, a failure to have the proper weapons or to use them correctly at an opportune time is not only dangerous, it can be deadly! The course of human history has often been swayed by a timely use of a new tactic or technology, and just as often as been swayed due to an equal inability to leverage such as required. One example that comes to mind is the famed Me-262. Volumes have been written about the world’s first operational jet fighter and the turmoil surrounding it that handicapped not only it, but the entire Luftwaffe too.
However, it’s not just the famous Schwalbe that had its problems. There were plenty of other examples on all sides of WWII that fit into this category. One that comparatively few know about is the Bachem Ba-349 Natter (viper). As the Nazi high command finally realized, a Vertical Take-Off (VTO) rocket-interceptor with no way to launch is pretty much a waste of time and trouble. It’s akin to having a box of bullets but no gun; it’s just dead weight at that point.
When the Bachem company developed the Ba-349 Natter rocket fighter, the need was for a VTO aircraft that could be moved to wherever the bombers were expected. In many ways, the Natter was the forerunner of the modern mobile Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system. Of course, the difference was that the Natter was piloted and partially reusable. Still, the issue was that designing and perfecting the Natter itself didn’t help stem the tide of the bomber offensive at all! It was useless without a way to not only launch it, but also to move it to areas under threat.
Early Natter tests were performed from fixed sites using either a steel tower or a stripped-down tree trunk embedded in the ground. However, this wasn’t suitable for the role envisioned for the Natter. To fully compliment the point defence nature of the plane, a truly mobile launching system was required. Let’s face facts; permanent launching facilities would not only be easy to avoid, they would be very easy for the Allies to find and destroy, given their air superiority late in the war.
Thus, the only way to counter this, and to make the far-out scheme of a wooden, rocket-powered VTO interceptor even half-viable, was to ensure that there was a highly mobile way to getting the Natter where it needed to be, WHEN it had to be there. One of the designs that emerged was a simple trailer that doubled as a launch rail! Simplicity was the watchword, as it was throughout the whole Natter programme, and the device that emerged was little more than a few large timbers strapped together, just long enough to support two Natters nose-to-nose for transport. Attached to the main beam were two support rails for the wings and a metal “trough” for the locating lug.
The idea was that the trailer would be towed to the launch site and then folding arms would be used to erect it for launch. These arms were normally folded along the length of the trailer and hinged on the main axles. To keep things as simple as possible, it wasn’t even proposed to use pneumatic tires! Old-fashioned wooden wagon wheels with a metal strap on the outside would do. The only strategic materials used were to be the nails and hinges, with a few reinforcing straps and the axles. In short, you can think of it as how the Amish would build a SAM launcher. It was basically the post-apocalyptic solution to an almost apocalyptic problem. Such a unit was never actually built, it seems, although the trailer is illustrated in a drawing in the excellent Classic book on the Natter.
Of course, just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean there can’t be a model of it, and the good folks at Czech manufacturer Brengun have decided to give all of us Luft ’46 aficionados the cut-rate transport of our dreams with their resin and photoetch 1/72 Ramp/Trailer for Bachem Natter. Given the weird nature of this thing, I decided to give it a go. I’m not a resin builder by trade; I’ve only built one and swore that’d be the end of it. However, this charmingly antiquated, yet oddly futuristic, design made me break my vow and give resin one more go.
The box is a bit different from Brengun’s normal red-sided glossy boxes. My copy came in a white, side-lidded heavy-duty cardboard box, more like a shipping box than a model box. This is pretty typical for what I’ve seen of resin kits, though, so it’s not really a surprise. There is a red label telling you what’s inside, with a picture of the finished trailer erected in firing position on the front. The picture shows a camouflaged trailer with an all-grey Natter on it. There’s small text to tell you the obvious; the Natter is NOT included. Nor should you expect it to be. However, Brengun makes several flavours of Natter, so it’s not like your trailer should be wanting for things to launch! If the Brengun offerings are too new or good for you, then you can always revert to the ancient, but actually quite good, Heller Natter. At least it’s the actual production version, and is therefore a great compliment to this kit.
Inside the box are a fret of photoetch and a bag of grey resin pieces. There are 11 pieces of resin in this kit, some of which are very large. The entire main beam of the trailer/launcher is one piece, as are the complicated looking wing support rails and their attendant “V” supports. Each wheel and main axle hinge, as well as the support legs and feet, are also given as individual pieces.
Looking at the parts, they look very, very nicely cast. The wood texturing on the parts is amazing, and the wagon wheels are beautifully done. The main metal “spine” on the trailer looks good too, and there’s nice fine rivet detail on the photoetch. What really got me were the ‘nail holes’ in the V-supports. Stunning work! There is no flash anywhere on any of these pieces, and the woodgrain is only where it’s supposed to be; it doesn’t spill over onto the should-be-metal axle support detail.
One thing that gave me pause, though, was the size of the pour blocks to which the pieces are attached. In many cases, there’s more resin in the support sprue than the piece itself! In a lot of ways, it kind of reminded me of an old MPC – more flash than kit! Also, I was very worried about how I was going to cut the axle-mounted hinge support brackets off of the resin pour blocks to which they seem completely attached.
The first step is to get the resin pieces separated from the pour blocks. This really looked hard, and I started on the main beam, since I figured it would be the most solid and survive my ham-handed attempts to carve it free using a small wood saw. I cut the pour block into sections first, and then cut the webbing joining the part to the block a bit at a time. I admit it was an overly dramatic and difficult way of doing it, as I found out about half way through the endeavour.
As it turns out, the folks at Brengun seem to be experts at making resin bits easy to separate from the pour blocks! I found that the parts were almost perforated, they wanted to break off of the pour stubs so easily! All I had to do was run my Xacto knife along the seam where the webbing joined the part a few times and then give a light flex and “Pop!”, off came the part. Not only that, but there was only a tiny seam where the part had been attached. Cleanup was minimal, and the results amazed me. In some ways, it was actually easier than the same thing on a plastic kit!
Even the very delicate wing support rails were easy to cut loose. The webbing inside the angled support arms was very thin and cut out almost effortlessly with my knife. Sadly, one of the V-shaped arms was broken in my kit when I got it. However, it was a very clean break and a drop of CA glue fixed it up right away. Considering how delicate these rails are, I thought I’d be gluing a lot of pieces back together, but there was only one other mishap during the part cleanup process, and that was entirely my fault.
The resin from which the trailer is cast is hard, but not as brittle as I would have expected. The beams do have some flex to them, and this is a good thing for positioning and clean up. Amazingly, even the axle-mounted beam supports were easy to cut from their backing using a PE saw! Overall, getting the parts of this kit cut off the sprues and ready to go was as easy as it is for a normal styrene kit. There are also no visible bubbles, voids, runs or other resin “mistakes” on any of the parts.
Building the Launcher:
Building this kit is very straightforward. There is a page of instructions that clearly illustrate what must be done, and show what goes where for both trailer mode and launcher mode. Before assembly could begin, there were a few “bite marks” on the support rails and the back of the trailer that needed work. Those on the rails were caused by the moulding process. The attachment points for the rail to the pour block resulted in small divots on the rail. Using Tamiya grey putty and a bit of acetone, I applied and contoured some putty to these areas. I had to do the same on the back of the main beam where my inexperience had led to some unfortunate damage. The putty/acetone mix flowed nicely into the small cut marks, and sanding was easy. The resin that Brengun used sands very well with a minimum of force, and getting all the pieces to fit was a simple job.
The resin glues well with conventional CA glue; I use the Zap-a-Gap brand, but I’m sure any will do. I don’t have any accelerator in my supply cabinet, since I rarely use CA during my modelling. However, the pieces are so well-formed that they will maintain their position even while slower-drying CA solidifies. The photoetch pieces are for the metal details like attachment plates and support straps. The long straps are to wrap around the main beam of the trailer (which is made to look like it’s composed of two beams) just to one side of the wing support rail V-arms. These bits of PE are brilliantly done; they are already formed at an angle, so that when they’re bent at the corners, they take the angled base of the main beam into account! The small plates that go on the end of the V-arms at the support rail interface fit nicely; I glued the one half onto the V-arm, and when the glue was dry, I just bent the other half into position!
Considering how much I hate, and eschew, photoetch, I have to say that this kit really made me rethink my opinion. The PE was just so good and easy to use. However, I still have to say that by and large I don’t like PE. This model is more like the exception that proves the rule, at least for me, than it is an opinion-changing epiphany regarding the user-friendliness of PE. Still, it goes to show that even if you dislike, or even haven’t used PE before this that Brengun has gone out of its way to make sure you have a good experience with this model.
The only tricky part was getting the legs into the right position. I’m used to being able to apply glue, and then fidget parts into place as the glue dries. This doesn’t work with a non-gel CA. So, I glued each “foot” on first, made sure they were level with their hinges, and then glued on the support beams and axle-mounted clevises once the glue on the feet dried. It wasn’t artful, but it was effective. I was quite surprised to find that the entire assembly not only held in the right position, but also stands on its own. It’s not a very strong looking structure, and I think that it might not have held up well in operation, but as a model, it looks pretty darn neat!
The best part of “What If” kits is deciding on the paint scheme. Anything technically goes, although I personally try and keep my engineering changes and colour choices within what would at least be viable for the subject. I’m not a fan of the “Nazi Powered Suits vs. Shermans” kind of thing, but that’s just me. Given that this was a desperation launcher for a desperation weapon, it made sense that it would likely have been roughly built and minimally finished. My grandfather was a German carpenter, and he and my father made, entirely by hand, a cottage in mid-northern Ontario. I remember it’s rough-hewn but decidedly sturdy look. This is typical of old German carpentry, and I figured this trailer would be made in much the same mould, had it been real. Thus, I decided I would try to simulate a wooden look and then do some scribble cammo over it.
For the “wood look” I used a mixed Model Master Acrylic (MMA) made of Flat White, Dark Tan, Blue Angels Yellow and a tiny bit of Leather. This was actually a paint I used my ReZel Defensor B not that long ago, and it was about the colour of cardboard or wood. After giving the parts a primer layer with “Paint It”-brand primer (the last of the good, cheap Wal-Mart stuff), I airbrushed the “wood” base colour over the entire trailer and the wheels, and let it dry. It was somewhat “woody” looking, but all that nice woodgrain detail wasn’t really showing through. Before I got to that part, though, I had to get the metal parts detailed. I used MMA Steel for the main rail, straps, axle and brace holders, as well as the outsides of the wagon wheels and the small PE bits at the ends of the V-arms. I then gave these parts a wash with Citadel Nuln Oil gaming paint to darken them up and give them an aged look. I will never tire of just what a difference a light wash can give MMA acrylic metal paints. They go from “painted” to “real” in one quick, and fun, application!
The entire assembly was then washed with brown chalk pastels and Varsol. I rubbed in the pastels using a tiny foam makeup applicator and then dissolved the powders with the Varsol, creating a wash that seeped not only into the paint but also more deeply into the “grain” of the wood. Once the Varsol dried, I was able to wipe off some of the excess powder from the high spots, leaving a fairly uniform covering in the grain. I flat coated the entire trailer with Delta Ceramcoat Matte Urethane varnish and let it dry. When I was done, I noticed the effect of the wood was there, but pale. A light second coat done the same way gave me the result I was looking for.
The problem with this was it dulled the metal pieces too much. I brought them back to life, as it were, with a Prismacolour silver pencil crayon. I have found many different uses for this wonderful tool; it’s expensive, but if you don’t have one, go and get one. I was able to ‘drybrush” the metal bits to silver-up their edges and rivet detail, as well as silvering the top edge of the main guide rail. This made it look shiny from use, and helped it to stand out. One more flat coat finished the job. Looking at the launcher as it was, I decided just to leave it at that. If this launcher was being used, then times were so desperate that there’s a good chance they wouldn’t even have camouflaged it!
The Brengun trailer/launcher for the Natter is a neat little accessory, and ideally suited for What-If dioramas. It’s also a cool way to display your (likely Brengun) Natter kit, although it’s only useful for the Ba-349a models; it won’t fit the larger ventral fin of the BP-20 test machines. While the box doesn’t really grab you with excitement, the contents really should. This is a very well-designed, engineered and executed kit. It’s a shame it’s a resin kit that will likely see less widespread circulation, because it’s really a joy to build and excellently detailed model.
If you’ve never built a resin kit, this is a great one to start on. However, it might spoil you, since I’ve seen a lot of resin kits that are nowhere near this precise or user-friendly. With clear instructions, great detail and imminently useable photoetch, this launcher/trailer is a kit I can recommend to anyone interested in this subject area.
The only issue is that, if you don’t have a Natter, then you might feel that just building the trailer is kind of lame. Sure, I can see that. However, don’t forget that this is a “What If” accessory, so you can surely come up with some other uses. I have a Condor Enzian SAM in my stash somewhere, and I think I’m going to see if I can adapt this trailer for that. The Enzian makes more sense than the Natter anyway!
Regardless of what you do with it, I can’t recommend this kit enough. I’m still in awe that I’m saying that about a kit that’s all resin and photoetch, since those are the two materials I hate most of all in modelling. Still, quality is what it is, and this kit’s got it in spades. Just remember to have fun with it; I did, and I think it turned out pretty darn well for a hybrid of an Amish hay wagon and a SAM launcher!